ALDF Speaks Out For Captive BearsPosted by Posted by ALDF Guest Bloggers Neil Abramson, Kelly Anne Targett, Daniel Saperstein, Nicholas Tamburri, and Allison Martin on February 15, 2014
Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) more than forty years ago to ensure that animals used for exhibition purposes receive humane care and treatment. Although the regulations implementing the AWA set forth specific criteria for the care of certain animal groups including non-human primates and marine mammals, one set of catch-all standards covers the vast majority of animal species. Because of their general nature, the nonspecific standards have proven largely ineffective in promoting the welfare of many species of captive animals and, therefore, cannot fulfill the AWA mandate. Nowhere are those failings more obvious than in the treatment of captive bears in this country, frequently left to languish in barren concrete dog-run style enclosures at roadside zoos. ALDF has worked to protect and defend captive bears at every opportunity, for example filing suit to free Ben the Bear and threatening to sue the Chief Saunooke Bear Park. But bears also deserve strong, species-specific standards that consider the unique needs of this complex species.
PETA, our partner in the Ben the Bear case, recently petitioned the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to urge the promulgation of bear-specific standards to better protect confined members of the species. The PETA petition specifically encouraged APHIS to establish minimum criteria to govern, among other things, adequacy of diet, space for foraging and denning, enrichment, and the need for clean water for bathing. APHIS responded to the petition by soliciting public comments on PETA’s proposal, and ALDF, with the assistance of pro bono legal counsel Proskauer Rose, immediately embraced the opportunity to speak out, once again, on behalf of captive bears.
With the help of veterinarian and animal scientist Dr. Ursula Bechert, we submitted comments to APHIS demonstrating that the generic standards as applied to captive bears violate the well-established intent of the AWA to promote the welfare of the species. We also flatly rejected the suggestion that promulgating more comprehensive species-specific standards would adversely impact Native Americans, and argued, instead, that many Native American cultures honor bears and condemn their abuse. Finally, we pointed out the international impact of this country’s failure to protect captive bears, which can foster a dismissive attitude toward the species in other countries and compromise conservation efforts on a global scale.
We truly hope that APHIS will act at this critical moment to end the suffering of captive bears by imposing stricter standards to account for the unique social, physical, and psychological needs of the species.
You can submit your own comments here, encouraging APHIS to adopt the petition and create strong, bear-specific standards under the Animal Welfare Act. APHIS has extended the deadline to comment to March 12, 2014.